Ray Liotta, the famous actor best known for his roles in crime dramas, died Thursday, May 26, in the Dominican Republic at the age of 67. He leaves behind a daughter and a fiancee.
Liotta caught his big break in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 gangster film Goodfellas, in which he played an Italian American mobster. From there, Liotta continued to be cast primarily in roles that suited his gruff, no-bullshit demeanor. The New Jersey native also starred in a fair share of comedies, and once told Long Island Weekly, “You want to do as many different genres as you can and that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve done movies with the Muppets. I did Sinatra. I did good guys and bad guys. I did a movie with an elephant. I decided that I was here to try different parts and do different things. That’s what it’s really all about.”
Whether he’s acting alongside Muppets or playing a corrupt cop, Liotta brings an undeniable level of charm and charisma to his characters. In honor of the late actor, let’s take a look back at five of his most iconic roles.
The Place Beyond the Pines
First on the list is the underrated movie The Place Beyond the Pines. Liotta stars alongside Bradley Cooper, Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendez, and Ben Mendelsohn in a beautifully written drama with three intertwining storylines. His role as corrupt police detective Peter Deluca drives the film’s tension and showcases Liotta’s mastery at making audiences’ skin crawl with suspense.
Next up is one of Liotta’s rare ventures into horror. Starring opposite Anthony Hopkins in the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, Liotta steals the show in the movie’s most disturbing scene. Drugged by Hannibal, Liotta’s character is given a lobotomy, then unwittingly fed pieces of his own brain. It’s a hard scene to stomach, but few people could convincingly make eating dark meat chicken so unnerving.
In 2006, Liotta starred in Guy Ritchie’s shoot-em-up Smokin’ Aces. In a rare turn for Liotta, his character is a cop on the straight and narrow. Amid the movie’s climactic hotel gun battle, Liotta engages in one of the most cramped shootouts of all time. His character goes head to head with a mercenary inside an elevator. It’s close-quarters battle taken to the extreme, and Liotta pulls it off.
Another one of Liotta’s often overlooked characters is that of New York gangster Roy Demeo in The Iceman. It’s a role he’s perfect for. Liotta manages to dominate one of the deadliest hitmen in history (played by Michael Shannon) and does so simply by exuding a level of power few actors could convincingly pull off. In one notable scene between Liotta and Shannon, Liotta is so into character that he presses the barrel of a gun into Shannon’s face with so much force that it leaves a visible mark on his cheek.
No list would be complete without Liotta’s most iconic role. Starring alongside giants like Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro would bury most actors, but Liotta managed to outshine both of them. His famous line, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster,” now sits among the most recognizable lines in movie history. It also defined much of Liotta’s career, where he was regularly cast as gangsters, mobsters, cops, and criminals. His commanding presence and on-screen charm will be deeply missed.